NEW DELHI: Union Minister MJ Akbar Monday filed a private criminal defamation complaint against journalist Priya Ramani who recently levelled charges of sexual misconduct against him as the #MeToo campaign raged in India.
The Minister of State for External Affairs has accused Ramani of "willfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously" defaming him and has sought her prosecution under the penal provision on defamation.
Akbar, who is facing charges of sexual harassment and wrongdoing by around a dozen women journalists, earlier on Sunday called the allegations "false, wild and baseless" and vowed to take legal action against the accusers.
While Akbar issued a statement, there was no word from the government or the ruling BJP as to whether he would continue in the government amidst opposition demands for his resignation.
"Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge. These false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage to my reputation and goodwill," he said.
"Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy. This is deeply distressing. I will be taking appropriate legal action," said the 67-year-old former Editor of Asian Age.
Referring to charges by former colleague Priya Ramani, who had written an article a year ago and now named him following the #MeToo campaign, Akbar said: "Priya Ramani began this campaign a year ago with a magazine article. She did not, however, name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied, in a Tweet: "Never named him because he didn't 'do' anything.
"If I didn't do anything, where and what is the story? There's no story. But a sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe has been built around something that never happened. Some are total, unsubstantiated hearsay; others confirm, on the record, that I didn't do anything," he said.
He referred to other journalists and said: "Shutapa Paul states, 'the man never laid a hand on me'.
"'Shuma Raha says, I must clarify, however, that he didn't actually 'do' anything'. One woman, Anju Bharti, went to the absurd extent of claiming I was partying in a swimming pool. I do not know how to swim."
Akbar, a founding editor of The Telegraph daily and Sunday magazine, was a big name in the media industry before he joined politics in 1989 when he fought the Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket and became an MP.
He joined BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. A Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, he was inducted into the Modi government in July 2016.
Rebutting allegations by some others, Akbar said: "Another accusation was made repeatedly by Ghazala Wahab, in an effort to damage my reputation. She claimed that she had been molested in office, 21 years ago. This is 16 years before I entered public life, and when I was in media.
"The only office where I worked with Ghazala Wahab was that of The Asian Age. A part of the editorial team then worked out of a small hall. At the time concerned, I had a very tiny cubicle, patched together by plywood and glass. Others had tables and chairs two feet away.
"It is utterly bizarre to believe that anything could have happened in that tiny space, and, moreover, that no one else in the vicinity would come to know, in the midst of a working day. These allegations are false, motivated and baseless.
"Pertinent to remember Ramani and Wahab kept working with me even after these alleged incidents; clearly establishes they had no apprehension and discomfort. The reason, why they remained silent for decades, is very apparent, as Ramani has herself stated, I never did anything," he added.
As many as 12 journalists have accused Akbar of sexual harassment while he was one of the most powerful journalists in India himself.
The floodgates of allegations opened when journalists across the country joined the #MeToo movement and spoke up about Akbar's 'predator behaviours' across newsrooms.
Following which, senior journalist Ghazala Wahab in an article in The Wire, penned her harrowing experience with Akbar (he was then the editor of the newspaper) while she was a budding journalist at Asian Age. "He was standing next to the door and before I could react he shut the door, trapping me between his body and the door. I instinctively flinched, but he held me and bent to kiss me," wrote Wahab.
Following Wahab's account, women took to Twitter and exposed accounts of his misbehaviour and sexual misconduct across newsrooms and hotels. A US-based scribe through her blog has also come forward to accuse the minister of trying to forcefully kiss her. Majlie de Puy Kamp, revealed that she was sexually harassed by Akbar in 2007 when she was an 18-year-old intern.
(With inputs from PTI)